Tag Archives: Vancouver

Iliev: The Bullet from Bulgaria!

iliev

I love a surprise, don’t you? One of last season’s biggest surprises came from Bulgaria’s Vladimir Iliev. He enjoyed his best season ever and turned in some very impressive performances. It’s always great to see biathletes from the so-called smaller nations doing well and fighting at the top with the big boys! Vladimir was born in Troyan, Bulgaria on the 17th of March 1987 and has been competing on the international stage since 2004.

We first noticed him way back in 2007 when he won his first medal in the Junior Summer World Championships in Otepaa. He took bronze in the 10km Sprint and proved that he is very good on the roller skis by winning the bronze in the Senior Summer World Championships in Nove Mesto in 2011 in the same event. He was also part of the Bulgarian Team who won a bronze medal in the Mixed Relay at the 2011 Universiade in Erzurum.

These achievements may not have made big headlines in biathlon but are significant steps for someone who doesn’t have the money and support behind them like the big teams do. He was making quiet progress on the World Cup up until last year with his best overall finish being 44th in the Total Score. He has taken part in 6 World Championships and 2 Olympic Games which has given him a wealth of experience which is now being put to good use.

Before last season Vladimir had only finished in the Top 20 three times, a 6th place in Pokljuka in 2012/13, an 11th place in the Ruhpolding Individual in 2011/12 and a 15th place in the Antholz Pursuit in 2013/14. Now he can boast 9 Top 20 finishes in a single season and two Top 10 finishes in the World Championships which were his best results by far in that competition. All of these excellent results meant that he finished a fantastic 25th in the Total Score.

So what has brought about this change in Iliev? Well he has always been a consistently good shot. He might not be the fastest shooter but he doesn’t miss a lot of targets. The thing that has improved however is his ski speed. He is now skiing faster and that coupled with his shooting skills has meant that he has propelled himself into the Top 20 biathletes more often and is scoring good points. He isn’t the only one however as his teammate Krasimir Anev also had a successful season. When Bulgarian biathlon legend Vladimir Velickov says “The boys in Bulgarian biathlon are very good” then you know they are doing something right!

The highlight of Iliev’s season was probably winning a medal in the European Championships in Oteppaa the scene of his first Junior medal. Again it was bronze but this time came in the 20km Individual race and is a big step in his career. Next season will be a crucial one for Iliev. He must continue his progress and not slip backwards which can happen very easily. He has to be aiming for the Top 5 and a podium is not out of the question. An improvement on 25th in the Total Score would be a success and a good showing in the World Championships in Oslo must also be on his agenda. Whatever happens in the coming season he is doing a fantastic job representing his country and making people sit up and take notice of Bulgarian biathlon. If he manages to improve his ski speed and shooting even more it will be a good season for the Bullet from Bulgaria!

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WAXing Lyrical!

Bees make it, ears make it, chandlers use it(that’s candle makers to you and me not the guy from Friends!),but most importantly it goes on skis! What is it? That’s right, WAX! The true hero of biathlon! If it wasn’t for the wax and the wax technicians biathlon would be a sport about people going really slow and falling over. The real stars of biathlon are the wax techs! Without them where would we be? Still on the start line that’s where! It’s time they had their moment in the spotlight and here it is!

Famous wax technicians include of course…er…um…er…Madame Tussaud and the Karate Kid’s Mr.Miyagi(wax on,wax off)!!! OK so neither of them deal in skis but there are a few in biathlon you might have heard of. The Norwegians have Morten Svendsen who is Emil’s big brother and taught him everything he knows(about wax anyway!), Muck Bauer a German who now works exclusively for the US team, Rich Pettit from Team Canada and Federico Fontana from Italy.

The art of waxing skis is a difficult one as we saw in Sochi at the Olympics. The Norwegian team in particular had some difficulties getting the skis to run fast. One Norwegian who had no trouble however was Darya Domracheva’s ski technician Ivar Michal Ulekleiv who used a 20 year old magic elixir to make her skis glide beautifully in the changing snow conditions and helped her to win 3 gold medals.

So how do they do it? Well some teams are luckier than others and can afford a huge wax truck full of high tech equipment. Others have an orange shipping container (see Team USA in Sochi) where they keep their equipment, some teams have a wax hut and others have absolutely nothing and have to rely on the help of the other teams.

Waxing is a pretty complicated business and you really have to know what you are doing. Unfortunately it not just a case of buying some wax and putting on the bottom of your skis! In biathlon they use the skating technique nowadays rather than classic so we don’t really need to get into the sticky world of klister, we can stick to hard and soft wax. The whole point of waxing is to optimize the thickness of the thin film of water between the ski and the snow. Friction obviously is essential and there is a combination of wet and dry friction that you must balance. Too much water gives you wet drag or suction and too little water creates dry drag or too much friction. It is a delicate balance and that’s where the wax comes in. There are different types of wax to help manage this made from different components. Hard or cold wax is used in cold conditions and soft or warm wax is used it warm conditions. These are well named don’t you think so no wax accident can occur!Cold wax on a warm day is not a good idea and vice versa!

Waxing also needs some specific equipment. Firstly you need to secure the ski in a vice and clean it with a brush before you apply the wax. There are different varieties of brush with for example steel or copper bristles depending on how dirty the ski is. Then you apply the wax and use a waxing iron to help it penetrate the ski better. You should clean and wax the ski from tip to tail unless you want to go backwards really quickly!!! ;-). Scrapers are then used to scrape off any excess wax. They also use grinders to prepare the underside of the ski before applying wax if necessary.

It’s a lot of work being a wax technician. They start very early because they have to prepare the skis and test them and also collect data about the snow and analyse it all. Then when the athletes choose their skis for the race they have to prepare them, but not until just before the race in case of any potential change in conditions. Their work is not over when the race starts either. They support the athletes on track by giving them time gaps, showing them where their shots have fallen, providing drinks and of course shouting encouragement. It doesn’t end there however as afterwards they have to collect and clean the skis before preparing for the next day.

It’s a tough job but there is still hope for all the wax techs out there who are frustrated athletes! There is the inspirational story of America’s Alex Deibold from another Winter sport. He was the wax tech for the snowboard team in the Vancouver Olympics and then went on to win a bronze medal in Sochi in the Snowboard cross.

So as you can see the waxing of the skis plays a huge part in how the biathletes perform and the wax technicians are an essential part of any success or indeed failure. These brave soles who spent most of their time in a hot truck that smells of fumes or out testing on the track deserve a lot of credit. They should have a lot more people than just me WAXing Lyrical about them! Keep up the good work guys – even though you are hidden away in a truck you are not forgotten!!!

*to wax lyrical: to speak about something in an enthusiastic,interested and excited way.

Disclaimer: I am not a wax expert(or waxpert if you like!) so if I got anything wrong it’s the Internet’s fault and not mine!!!

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